- I happen to like her books, and she's got three other series besides this (Tales of Einarinn, The Aldabreshin Compass, and Tales of the Lescari Revolution, or series titles similar enough to these that you should be able to find them on Amazon).
- The events (and some characters) described in Dangerous Waters do rely somewhat heavily on what happened in previous books, particularly the Lescari Revolution books. You'll really be lost at some points with respect to the dropped names (people and places) -- e.g. Sorgrad, Triolle, Larisa, Planir. But there are other names connecting to the other series -- Velindre was important in the Aldabreshin books, and Usara, Shivvalan, the Elietimm, Artifice, and the sheltya from the Einarinn books all make appearances, even if only briefly.
Okay, now I have to go off on a rant about Solaris (McKenna's current publisher) and how they don't seem to have an editor with a functioning brain. This was a problem with all of the Paul Kearney works (Macht trilogy) I recently reviewed, as well. Some examples:
- Page 9: "Not now she wouldn't." This sentence begins and ends with the word "not." I'd probably reword it by removing the first one.
- Page 68: Some infodumping and unusual words in speaker attributions (which I am ever cautioning against): "snapped," "demanded."
- Page 178 (and several other times): "principle" used when "principal" is meant. One time, I could forgive as coming from autocorrect. Three or four? Someone doesn't know the difference.
- Page 241: "Pupil mages would swap stories...after Sannin had accosted their mentor." I don't think ALL the pupil mages had the same mentor. So it should be "mentors." (This was a big problem in the Kearney books, too.)
- Page 255: I'm not sure people really talk like this. Have you ever used the word "calumny" in a sentence? (That's not the only example. The language is particularly formal here.)
- Page 589: "Who was going to live longer, he wondered. Him or that mouse?" Was HIM going to live longer? It needs to be the same part of speech as "who." So, as weird as it might sound, it needs to read "He or that mouse?" If you don't like that, try rewording the sentence.
And, a couple of places where McKenna gets bonus points for accuracy:
- Page 263: Loading and reloading a crossbow is not easy. McKenna, unlike some authors out there, actually seems to realize this. (Although by the next page, Corrain is aiming "bolt after bolt.")
- Elsewhere, and I didn't mark this page, McKenna considers the effects on the tides of having two moons (which there are, in her world). I didn't bother to try to figure it out myself, but at least she considers that the tides would depend on both moons, whereas a lot of authors don't bother.
So McKenna's character names are strange, occasionally bordering on unpronounceable or with unusual combinations of letters. ("Jilseth," "Kusint," and so on.) Usually I can live with this, after the first encounter with a person. (I'd suggest avoiding any attempt at etymology.)
I get McKenna's purpose with this scene; she wants to establish Jilseth's particular talent and intellectual interest (magically tracking someone). What I don't like is that it turns into telling as opposed to showing. The thing is, one of McKenna's viewpoint characters (Corrain) was there during the incident that resulted in the deaths of the men whose bodies Jilseth has found. And Corrain does have some flashbacks about the event. But it would've been more effective storytelling to see what happened through Corrain's eyes. I think it still ought to be possible to introduce Jilseth's talent, but I guess what I'm saying is, I would've done it differently.
Anyway, Jilseth doesn't have much of a personality. There are some factions among the wizards of Hadrumal, but they pull it together in order to work to overcome their difficulties. I actually like this aspect of the story; usually when tension builds the way it did for Jilseth and Planir (the Archmage) and their collaborators, against Kalion and Ely and their collaborators, it ends up in an all-out battle for control. This time, the people actually acted like adults. Now maybe Jilseth's personality is doing magical research, and her "work" life and everyday life therefore overlap quite a bit. I suppose when I think about it that way, she becomes a better character. Her personality seems lacking because she's a workaholic.
Corrain has a bit more backstory; he was captain of Baron Halferan's guard until he slept with the steward's (who has the unfortunate name of Starrid) wife. Though he's not just a jerk; Starrid had beat up his wife first, and apparently everyone knew it. And Corrain does get punished for this, by being knocked down in rank. I would probably have divulged this information a little differently, however; it was not clear at first why Corrain had been knocked down. He seemed like an intelligent, well-trained, loyal man -- just the sort you'd want as the captain of your guard. He also has a couple of tough decisions to make (e.g. leaving his friend when he escapes the slavers he's been sold to, after the raid that killed his Baron).
Zurenne is Halferan's widow. I find her to be rather obnoxious. She's at Minelas's (the rogue mage's) mercy early in the story, and complains how she and her daughters are wearing old clothes. When her sister's husband comes to her aid, she suddenly starts plotting to get rid of his influence, as well. I understand that she's upset that corsairs are raiding her (well, her husband's, and later her daughter's) territory, and that Hadrumal won't send aid, but I don't care so much for her scenes. She just strikes me as a privileged, stuck-up noblewoman for most of the book. She has two daughters, Ilysh and Esnina. Esnina's sole purpose seems to be to cry and get upset and blabber in front of the wrong people. Ilysh is apparently old enough that this is not an issue; in fact, she gets married during the book, though it seems she's barely hit puberty.
While we've been introduced to a number of the Hadrumal mages before, I did sort of miss some of my favorite characters from past books (Sorgrad and Sorgren, Charoleia, etc.). I guess Corrain was the most interesting of the three I've discussed here. He actually did some things instead of sitting around whining (Jilseth, in fairness, did too...but suffered many fewer difficulties as a result of her wizardly abilities).
Probably my favorite scene was when everyone was escaping from the Halferan manor. Just about everything that could go wrong, did -- Jilseth overextended herself, protective magics failed, the people went wild which led to some deaths, etc. There actually was a decent sense of urgency there. (It wasn't a HAPPY scene, but it was exciting, and you weren't sure what the outcome would be -- well, I skipped ahead and read the last page, so I knew, but if you weren't into spoilers, at least it seems real enough.)
I've skirted around the plot but basically, it's pretty well interconnected. Corsairs are raiding the coast and destroying villages and taking slaves; Zurenne's husband wanted to do something about it so he hired Minelas, who betrayed him, which lead to most of the Halferan men dying and Corrain being sold into slavery. Meanwhile, Minelas has taken over the Halferan manor but has disappeared. It's later discovered that he's dead (killed in the last of the Lescari books, by the way, another reason to read those first). Corrain frees himself and offers to go seek non-Hadrumal magepower to deal with the corsairs. He finds what he's looking for, too late to save the Halferan manor, and the mage he brings back is rather unscrupulous, as well. So there is a conflict set up for the next book, over what to do with this mage Corrain has recruited. In Hadrumal, the wizards have their differences, and spend a lot of time spying on each other and trying to outdo each other with respect to their magical abilities, but they mostly manage to pull it together.
One Amazon reviewer complains that the book is too slow. I suppose if I was coming at this without familiarity with any of McKenna's past work, I might think so as well. But because I have read all of her other books (at least the ones I know about), I've developed an interest in the world she's created, I can see the interconnectedness of this story with past ones, I catch the references to other events, etc. I find that I just like revisiting this place that she has created, it's difficult to put it into words, exactly, but it's sort of like renewing an acquaintance with an old friend. While every once in a while, McKenna does recycle a storyline (wild men coming out of nowhere to threaten our heroes, especially in the Einarinn books), most of the time the story is new. (As opposed to L.E. Modesitt, Jr.'s Recluce books, where we also move around the same world, but to wildly different points in time, which gets confusing. And Modesitt recycles the same story in every one of his books.)
I'm going to pick up the sequel, which I believe is called Darkening Skies, next. Looking forward to it!